Epiphany: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. Use words only if necessary.

In the liturgical calendar, yesterday was the 12th day of Christmas and today, January 6th is Epiphany, the Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God the Son as a human being in Jesus Christ.

Western Christians commemorate principally (but not solely) the visitation of the Biblical Magi to the Baby Jesus, and thus Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles. Eastern Christians commemorate the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River, seen as his manifestation to the world as the Son of God.

Epiphany means to “be brought to light” or “to cause to appear.”

This is the day we celebrate the revelation that the word became flesh in Jesus Christ. This is the best of all news because as early church father St. Athanasius said, “He was made man that we might become god.”

The poet Mary Oliver said, Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.

 I’ve been thinking lately about how we “tell about it.”

My friend Susan Osborn has been helping me see the inadequacy of words and the importance of silence. Here is a powerful poem she wrote:

Kindling By Susan Osborn

If I am deaf and cannot hear

And if I am blind and cannot see

If I am mute and cannot speak

If all of my senses are numb and dull

Will I be saved?

Is the soul impoverished in any way?

Or does the utter silence ring

with the Truth?

Does Love  care

what the words are

that lead us home?

The One I love


of showing not telling.

Every breath

fanning the fire

until it completely

consumes the house.

 I’ve been thinking about how “wordy” protestant Christians often are.

Don’t get me wrong, words are important, but do not the heavens declare the glory of God without uttering a single word? Words matter. Ideas matter. But the incarnation is the reminder that even God, the Word, became most articulate by the act of enfleshing the word.

 I wonder if there is an important lesson in the magi who came from the east? They were called by a star and responded obediently to it, not to a spoken word. The message of the star was augmented by the written word when the magi asked the teachers of the law, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

Isn’t it ironic that the written word was searched out by King Herod, who wanted to use the written word to find and kill the newborn King, not to worship?” How many legalists, fundamentalists and religionists of all traditions have mastered the written word, but never really encountered the living word?

Called by a star, further enlightened by the written word, the Magi’s epiphany was revealed not in words, but in a baby.

So if I truly want to heed poet Mary Oliver’s advice, “pay attention, be astonished, tell about it,” should not my telling be through the light of Christ within me shining like a star? Should it not be in the living Christ within me revealed in my acts? Should not verbal telling be used sparingly? Did not St. Francis say, “preach the gospel and if necessary, use words?”

A thought by Thomas Merton. “We who have seen the light of Christ are obliged, by the greatness of the grace that has been given us, to make known the presence of the Savior to the ends of the earth…not only by preaching the glad tidings of His coming; but above all by revealing Him in our lives…Every day of our mortal lives must be His manifestation, His divine Epiphany, in the world which He has created & redeemed.”

Before we tell, we must see and be astonished. Is it possible those who resort to words are often those who have not actually seen?

This is what A.W. Tozer concluded.  “Every age has its own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities, which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship, and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all.

If we would find God amid all the religious externals we must first determine to find Him, and then proceed in the way of simplicity. Now as always God discovers Himself to “babes” and hides Himself in thick darkness from the wise and the prudent. We must simplify our approach to Him. We must strip down to essentials (and they will be found to be blessedly few). We must put away all effort to impress, and come with the guileless candor of childhood. If we do this, without doubt God will quickly respond.”


ART: Epiphany by Jan L. Richardson

Posted in Staublog in January 6, 2012 by | 4 Comments »

4 Responses to Epiphany: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. Use words only if necessary.

  1. ST010612 | Dick Staub on January 6, 2012 at 10:23 am

    […] Epiphany: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. Use words only if necessary.  Is it possible those who resort to words are most often those who have not actually seen? Read More. […]

  2. brad on January 24, 2012 at 12:13 am

    I love this, Dick. You are not about to our sacrifice words on the altar of experience.

    I agree with you that the heavens declare the glory of God, but would I have come to that conclusion on my own, without having that recognition shaped by those very words? With the imagination I have, that’s a bet I’d rather not take.

    There is a line of thinking in the study of communication that posits that we can’t even experience what we don’t have vocabulary for. I don’t go for that. I believe that there are myriads of experiences that trump words. But when trying to comprehend these experiences, and trying to share them with other, words are the most relatable symbols we have.

    I’m supremely grateful for my capacity to be astonished, my capacity to articulate it, and the fact that I don’t have to choose between the two. Your post has made me more so.

  3. brad on January 24, 2012 at 12:28 am

    I’m not sure where that extra ‘our’ came from in the first paragraph. So much for my ability to articulate. 🙂

  4. […] across an Epiphany blog post today from Dick Staub, which went by the rather amazing title of Epiphany: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it. Use words only if necessary.  Not only am I late in finding this post for this Epiphany (which was last Sunday), this post was […]

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